Psalm 23: 1-6, The Divine Shepherd
Note to the Teacher
Psalm 23 is one of those well-known scriptures that has entered the same realm as the likes of John 3:16 and Philippians 4:13. So many Christians can call upon the words of Psalm 23 at a moment’s notice, but as can be the problem with well-known verses, do we take the time to sit down with this verse and reflect on its deep message that lies underneath the comfort we find from its words? Have you ever talked with your students about what it means to be a sheep? To be a sheep means being fully dependent upon your shepherd for your safety and protection from the evils of the world. Sheep are susceptible animals, they’re easy prey that are unable to fend for themselves. We are more like sheep than we probably want to admit, but the “wolf” we are powerless to on our own is sin. We need a shepherd powerful enough to defeat sin and death on our behalf. Enter Jesus who came into the world to lay down his life for you and me, his sheep, not just so that we may survive, but rather thrive in the fullness of life that he has to offer. The Ice Breaker will challenge your students’ problem-solving and communication capabilities. It can also be used as an illustration for the lesson about what it can feel like to be a sheep. The Discussion encourages students to Embrace their own “sheep-ness” and to openly accept all the sheep of the shepherd, even the ones they’d rather avoid. The Activity allows youth to depict how it might look in a modern context to have a table prepared in the presence of your enemies. Times are based on a 50-minute lesson period, but can be adjusted.
Description of activity (time)
1. Ice Breaker: Human Knot Game - can be tied into the lesson (10 minutes)
How to play: Have your group come and stand in a tight circle where they are all facing the inside of the circle. Have them reach out their hands and grab the hand of one person with their left hand and grab the hand of a different person with their right hand. It is important to make sure you don’t grab the hands of only one person, or this game won’t work. After this is done it will result in everyone being a tangled mess. Now they must untangle themselves without letting go of each other’s hands. This will result in students having to communicate and step over and under each other to untangle the human knot back into a circle.
Tie it back in: You can tie this back into the lesson by relating the helplessness of sheep to how a lot of the students probably felt at the beginning of the activity, which is probably pretty helpless.
2. Read Scripture (5 minutes)
Our Psalm today is arguably one of the most well-known psalms, if not the most well-known psalm. That can make it easy to discount it and not take time to really dive into the meaning of this scripture. So really challenge your students to read the psalm with fresh eyes and a heart willing to hear what the spirit might be trying to teach them during your discussion tonight.
Read Psalm 23: 1-6.
3. Discussion (15 minutes)
What are the different metaphors you can find in this scripture, and what do you interpret them to mean?
- How would you say that we are like sheep? Is it a flattering thing to be referred to as a sheep or not?
- How would you say it is that God is like a shepherd? What are the traits of a Shepherd that also depict who God is?
- What is your natural response to a situation in which you feel helpless and incapable?
The imagery of the sheep and the shepherd is symbolism used constantly throughout the Bible to depict our relationship with God. Jesus too shared this role as a shepherd over us.
- As Christians, and from David’s reflections in this psalm, what do you think our response should be when we feel helpless to overcome sin?
- How has the Lord comforted and rescued us from the evilness of sin that threatens to do us harm?
The imagery of sheep and shepherd ends kind of abruptly in this passage and we switch tracks to the idea that we are sitting at a table, some gathering of sorts. At this same table are our enemies, those we despise and would probably rather avoid at all costs. Yet, David sees the table God has prepared for him in the presence of his enemies as a blessing!
- Why are we uncomfortable with sitting at the table of our enemies?
- How can we find the blessing that David has found in the fact that at this table the Lord has prepared, there is even a place for his and our enemies?
- Think about this table as God’s Kingdom. If everyone is welcome at this table what does that tell us about God’s Kingdom?
- During Lent we are on a journey of forgiveness of our sins and transgressions, and we are not on this journey alone. In fact, I’m willing to bet that one of your enemies (someone you strongly dislike for one reason or another) is on the same journey you are. How do you feel about that after having read and discussing this scripture?
In order to continue with our Lenten journey, we need to embrace our “sheep-ness” and lean into the warmth and comfort of our shepherd who offers us full and abundant life. We also need to realize that there will be sheep who seek out that same comfort from the shepherd that we don’t particularly like, and how much of a blessing that is! Praise God that all are welcome in the arms of the shepherd, because the truth is that if there wasn’t a place for them, there wouldn’t be a place for you or me either.
4. Activity and Discussion (20 minutes)
Skit Illustrations: Break up your group, or if your group is small enough, they can do this together. Tell them they will be creating a skit based on a couple of scene-setters you are going to give them. The scene-setter may be a little vague, so encourage your students to get creative. As long as they cover the things in the scene-setter, they can get creative and add their own artistic twists to the story. Here is the scene-setter:
- Someone arrives at a celebration in which everyone was invited, the biggest celebration of all time, but there is someone at this gathering that you absolutely despise. You want to leave or find a way to get the other person out of there, but through some turn of events you realize what a blessing it is that everyone was invited to this celebration, because if everyone wasn’t invited then you wouldn’t have been either.
Have the group share their skits with each other and talk about how God’s Kingdom is going to be the same way, everyone is welcome into the grace God offers and we don’t get to limit that, which is the biggest blessing because we are all equally undeserving of grace.
- Possibly a piece of paper to hand out to each group with the “scene-setter” on it so they can reference it as they prepare their skits